Saddam's top aide Ibrahim captured
Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested a man believed to be the most-wanted Saddam Hussein aide still on the run in a bloody raid on Sunday in which 70 of his supporters were killed and 80 captured, the government said.
The top five on the list, including Saddam, his sons Uday and Qusay, and "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid, have already been captured or killed. The seventh most-wanted man on the list, Special Security Organization Director Hani Abd Latif Tilfah al-Tikriti, is still at large.
Iraqi Minister of State Wael Abdul al-Latif told Reuters it was "75 to 90 percent certain" the captured man was Ibrahim. He said 70 of the man's supporters were killed and 80 captured when they tried to prevent him being seized.
Latif said the captured man was suffering from leukemia and was in very poor health.
The U.S. military has said Ibrahim was directly involved in organizing and funding attacks on U.S. forces since the downfall of Saddam. In a deck of cards issued to US troops to help them identify fugitives, Ibrahim was the King of Clubs.
The news spread fast in Baghdad, and in some Shi'ite districts residents fired AK-47s in the air in celebration.
The red-haired Ibrahim was born in 1942 near Tikrit, 100 miles north of Baghdad, the son of an ice seller.
Ibrahim was one of Saddam's top aides and most trusted confidants. His daughter was briefly married to Saddam's elder son Uday, bonding him within the ruling elite.
If confirmed, the news will be a welcome boost for Iraq's interim government as it tries to crush a deadly insurgency and grapples with a hostage crisis.
France's government said on Sunday it remained hopeful that two French hostages would be freed, although its foreign minister returned empty-handed from a Middle East mission intended to secure their release.
"We have serious reasons to believe both of them are in good health and that a favorable outcome is possible," Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters after discussing the hostage crisis with President Jacques Chirac.
"Our top priority today remains to secure their release. Our priority is their safety," he said. "We are working hard, calmly, cautiously and discreetly."
Journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were seized on Aug. 20 by militants from the Islamic Army in Iraq, who demanded Paris rescind a law banning Muslim headscarves in state schools. France refused the demands and the law went into force on Thursday.
France was shocked to be caught up in the hostage crisis as it opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and has no troops there.
Militant groups waging a bloody insurgency against the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi government have turned to kidnapping foreigners as part of a campaign to force firms and foreign troops to leave Iraq. About two dozen foreign hostages have been killed, some of them beheaded.
Police said on Sunday the body of an Egyptian who was kidnapped last month had been found in northern Iraq.
The body of the Egyptian, who was snatched on Aug. 27, was found on Saturday at a roadside near the town of Baiji, 112 miles north of Baghdad, police said. They said the body bore signs of torture, with hands and legs bound together.